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Bob Raissman: NBA’s new TV partners have golden opportunity to bring back Jeff Van Gundy



ESPN’s abrupt exile of Jeff Van Gundy from ESPN’s No. 1 NBA broadcast team, after 17 years behind the microphone, was stinky when it went down last June. A year later, the stench has not cleared with the Celtics-Mavs scheduled to play Game 2 of the NBA Finals Sunday night.

There’s no use in rehashing the network’s illogic or taking it out on current cast members, Doris Burke and JJ Redick, or Hall of Fame play-by-play man Mike Breen. They were not collaborators in JVG’s demise. That “honor” would go to decision makers in charge of ESPN’s NBA coverage.

Nonetheless, when it comes to Van Gundy, the former Knicks and Rockets coach, the past is just that. It’s time to look ahead.

While the NBA has not gone public with its new TV rights deal (it prefers letting those whose jobs are in jeopardy hang by their fingernails), it has been widely reported that new players — including NBC/Peacock and Amazon — will be airing or streaming NBA games when the new contract kicks in before the 2025-26 season.

That gives NBC, or Amazon, plenty of time to hire JVG as its featured NBA analyst.

This is a rare opportunity for either of the two outlets to enlist the best game analyst in the business. The suits should consider this a gift from ESPN. The NBA’s new TV partners could even re-launch the JVG/Mark Jackson pairing and bring instant credibility to their product.

The outcome of JVG’s NBA TV future could answer recurring questions: Did ESPN let him go at Adam Silver’s behest? Did ESPN fire him because JVG didn’t hesitate to criticize the league, or its referees? Would firing JVG make it easier to complete a new TV deal?

If the answer to the questions is “yes,” JVG could have a hard time of returning to an NBA microphone. Yet Silver has said he played no part in ESPN’s decision to dump JVG.

TV sports suits most often go along to get along with their league TV partners. It’s just part of doing business.

Yet now, there’s always the possibility Van Gundy might have had his fill of TV and its behind-the-back skullduggery. Currently, JVG is a senior consultant for the Celtics. Last week, the possibility was raised about him joining Joe Mazzulla’s coaching staff next season.

Judging by JVG’s brother Stan’s comments recently on “South Beach Sessions,” the way ESPN handled JVG’s departure left much more than a bad taste in his mouth.

“He [JVG] was hurt by it,” SVG said. “…..They s–t on him.”

SVG claimed ESPN waited to dump his brother after all the NBA coaching jobs and front office gigs were already booked.

“The timing was awful,” SVG said on “SBS.”

“…And they delayed and delayed on a buyout that would free him to work for [other] people,” SVG said. “I mean after 17 years of being in arguably the best game broadcast booth in the business in basketball, and being the kind of person he is, ESPN s–t on him.”

Maybe Jeff Van Gundy will eventually find a network that won’t.

LAME DUCK SEASON FOR TNT

If the reporting turns out correct, 2024-25 will be a lame duck season for TNT Sports’ NBA coverage.

With parent company Warner Bros. Discovery apparently unwilling to over-pay for the NBA’s product, we can only imagine what TNT’s highly acclaimed studio show (Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley) will look like.

It could be a miserable experience for all involved; like working while watching the guillotine slowly fall. At least that’s how it was when CBS lost the NFC package to Fox Sports in 1993 and was a lame duck NFL broadcaster that season.

The stars survived. John Madden and Pat Summerall went over to become Fox’s No. 1 NFL team. It stands to reason that, if they want to, the stars of TNT’s studio show will find other NBA gigs.

But no matter where they end up it won’t be the same. They had something special going. Doing the show as a lame duck will offer challenges (and that’s being kind). The last thing the crew wants to do is give viewers the impression they are tuning in to watch a basketball wake.

LOOK AT ME!

Only at ESPN can on-court “activities” be overshadowed by in-studio “drama.”

Analysis of Chennedy Carter’s cheap-shot on Caitlin Clark, was transformed into look-at-me moments for ESPN personalities. Even the steady rocking Monica McNutt jumped into the fray, accusing Stephen A. Smith of being late (like three years late) to the WNBA product and style of play.

Johnny, er, Stevie come lately did not appreciate McNutt’s pointed observation, but took solace in pointing out how McNutt’s “First Take” appearances have helped further her broadcasting career.

Then there was the always “sensitive” Pat McAfee. During his soliloquy about the Carter-Clark incident he referred to the Fever rookie as “a white bitch.” No one in his studio Peanut Gallery dared challenge him.

McAfee would later apologize. How shocking!

AROUND THE DIAL

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski might as well have dropped his Thursday morning bomb on the NBA office. League operatives must have been thrilled that only hours before opening night of the NBA Finals, Wojnarowski sucked all the Finals media oxygen out of the air. He reported that the Lakers are targeting UConn’s Dan Hurley as their new head coach. This followed the Athletic’s Shams Charania crashing the Finals build-up with his Wednesday report about JJ Redick being the front-runner for the Lakers gig. … Is there a bigger sports talk proponent of getting high (on gummies) and gambling than SXM’s Christopher (Mad Dog) Russo? Doggie has turned his betting adviser “Fat Rob from Rapid City” into a cult hero. … MSG’s postgame show following the Rangers being eliminated by the Panthers captured the feeling of a devastating loss. By focusing on the players, MSG made viewers feel the pain of a team that had figuratively fallen off a cliff. The words and pictures were only augmented by the analysis of Steve Valiquette and Brian Boyle with anchor John Giannone keeping the show moving. No sugarcoating the loss, either. Good stuff. … Among the inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame Sunday in Canastota, N.Y., three come from the media world. Inducted in the “Observer” category will be Mike Tyson’s favorite scribe, Wallace Matthews, who, among other places, toiled and tangled on the boxing beat for Newsday, the Daily News, the Post and ESPN. When CNN was a player in sports, no one covered boxing better on TV than the late Nick Charles, a fearless realist behind the microphone. Charles, CNN”s first sports anchor, who died in 2011, will be inducted posthumously in the “Observer” category. Finally, a man who launched many careers through his ability to communicate (with a healthy sense of humor), boxing publicist extraordinaire Fred Sternberg. He goes into the Hall in the “Non-Participant” category.  We hope all the inductees have a great day and no fights break out.

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DUDE OF THE WEEK: GERRIT COLE

For continuing a tradition. According to YES’ Jack Curry, Cole treated his teammates to a post-game feed bag after pitching in Somerset last week. The spread consisted of: Steak, Sea Bass, Shrimp Cocktail, Lobster Mac and Cheese “and more.”

DWEEB OF THE WEEK: CHENNEDY CARTER

It’s fine that the Chicago Sky reserve decided it was cool to blind-side Caitlin Clark. Carter was confirming her “aggressive” style. But her refusal to initially answer questions on the topic showed a lack of respect for the media. Her obligations extend beyond the court.

DOUBLE TALK

What Igor Shesterkin said: “I don’t speak English.”

What Igor Shesterkin meant to say: “I don’t give hometown discounts.”

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